What’s Next for IPv6 in the U.S.?

Wired government

The U.S. government operates one of the largest technology infrastructures
on Earth, and it’s all supposed to be IPv6-ready.


At least, that was the plan.


A three-year-old mandate for IPv6 usage, put into place by the White House’s
Office of Management and Budget (OMB), went into effect June 30. That order
required all government agencies to have the ability to transmit IPv6
, the next generation of the Internet Protocol at the heart of
online communications.


But passing of the deadline doesn’t mean that U.S. government agencies have
actually begun using IPv6 for transit. In fact, even with experts predicting
that the current IPv4 Internet addressing scheme will be exhausted by
2010
, the vast majority of all traffic in the country remains IPv4.


“Now that the mandate has passed, it hasn’t resulted in a significant
increase in IPv6 traffic, and not many agencies are running dual IPv4/IPv6
stacks,” Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest
Government Services, told InternetNews.com.


OMB spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment by press time.


The OMB mandate requires government agencies to be able to demonstrate
compatibility with IPv6 — specifically, that they can both send and receive
IPv6 traffic. The rule doesn’t require government agencies to actually run
IPv6 for Internet transport on a daily basis.


The mandate was first announced in 2005, giving agencies nearly three years
to get ready. And while government network contractors agree that much still
remains to be done, meeting the mandate should not have been too difficult, observers said.


For instance, Christopher Davis, IPv6 product manager at NTT America, said
his company recommends dual IPv4/IPv6 stacks as a simple way to meet the OMB
mandate.


“Routers and operating systems have all been capable of running dual-stack
for quite some time, so it’s less of a nightmare than people might think,”
Davis told InternetNews.com. “If you’re going to renumber your entire
network with IPv6, that’s a different undertaking, but you don’t have to do
that to meet the mandate.”


Vendors also have made tools and services available to help network
administrators assess their needs.


“Qwest offers federal customers an independent certification tool that scans
devices and pings them to check for IPv6 compatibility,” Gowen said.


Despite such capabilities and tools, getting from the current low level of
IPv6 readiness to actually having the government running IPv6 for transit is
still some time away, observers said.


The chief selling point for IPv6 has long been the fact that IPv4 address
space is almost used up. Nevertheless, the issue alone hasn’t been enough of a driver according to Dave Siegel, Global Crossing’s vice president of IP and data services product management.

He said that’s because both government and U.S. businesses have been able to manage quite well with their current allocations, thanks to the use
of Network Address Translation (NAT) .


[cob:Pull_Quote]”There is definitely a desire to move to IPv6 in order for us to stay on the
same playing field with some of the threats that our nation faces from other
nations that are currently running IPv6,” Scott Camarotti, Siegel’s colleague and vice president of federal markets at Global Crossing, told InternetNews.com.


U.S. businesses and government agencies also haven’t felt the pressure to upgrade because the U.S. enjoys a huge proportion of available IPv4 addresses — due to the country being an early mover in the Internet itself.


“I don’t think that our country is in the lead, but we’re not lagging substantially either,” Siegel said. “The mandate, at the time that it came
out, was very forward-thinking. But just as a matter of a lack of available IPv4 addresses, other countries like China have been forced to accelerate
adoption — just because of address availability.”


Most agreed that IPv6 won’t gain significant traction until after the end of the Bush Administration’s term
of office.


“OMB issued the mandate in hopes of making the federal government the
catalyst for a nationwide adoption of IPv6,” Qwest’s Gowen said. “However,
it is going to be up to the next administration to push for it. I think a
year from now there will be a greater need for IPv6 because of an increased
demand for security.”

Page 2: Looking ahead

Page 2 of 2

Looking ahead on IPv6


Still, the mandate hasn’t been a complete disappointment. One of its
benefits has been that it’s encouraged government agencies to consider IPv6
as a purchasing criterion for all of their technology — even if
they haven’t come around to the idea of adopting it fully for transit.


“They may not be purchasing IPv6 transit today, however, their hardware is
enabled to do so,” Davis explained. “So when the time comes to turn IPv6 on,
they’re prepared and don’t need to do a forklift upgrade.”


Other government network contractors see funding for IPv6-related
initiatives as a key driver for further deployments.


“I know in talking with several leaders of several different government
agencies that once the funding comes, they will expand their planning and
expedite deployments of IPv6 across their networks,” Global Crossing’s Camarotti said.


And despite the U.S. government’s slowness of adopting IPv6, NTT’s Davis it’s still helped by taking a leadership role — and even now ranks near the front of the pack among governments that are turning to IPv6.


He noted that in NTT’s home country of Japan, the government has been active in IPv6, but it hasn’t taken the step of issuing mandates.


“The U.S. was the beneficiary of the lion’s share of IPv4 addresses to begin with,” Davis said. “So we haven’t felt crunch here, and so IPv4 will
probably live longer here then elsewhere.”

Global Crossing’s Siegel said that an additional mandate issued by the U.S. government could help move IPv6 adoption farther along.


“Where it gets fun is when a mandate comes to phase out IPv4,” he said. “That’s when issues will come to light and that’s
when every device will have to support IPv6.”


No such mandate has been issued by the government to date, and Siegel said
he couldn’t predict when IPv4 ultimately might be phased out in favor of IPv6 — adding
that he had, so far, been wrong when forecasting when IPv6 might become
broadly deployed.


“It’s been a great lesson in the difference between a technology being ready
to deploy and the ‘people aspect’ of adoption,” Siegel said. “If there is a
motivation, then things tend to happen, whereas if there is no motivation,
people will drag their feet.”


Camarotti agreed.


“If you look at departments and agencies, change is oftentimes painful,”
he added. “They typically go with what they know, and if they’re comfortable
with IPv4, there will be a resistance to change unless they are required to
change.”

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